Action 153. Climate. Reality.

I spent the last few days hanging out with Al Gore and a thousand fellow climate activists from most every state and 32 countries at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Denver, in an immersion into climate leadership that was powerful, at times surreal, and intensely motivating.

Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership program offers free (but you have to pay your own way to it; shout out to my wonderful in-laws who hosted my stay!)  training workshops around the country and the planet. Their goal is to educate attendees on the scope and magnitude of climate impacts and solutions. In turn, we attendees return to our communities to share what we have learned and get active on climate issues.

Over the three days, we learned an incredible amount about the scope and impacts of the climate crisis. Gore spent an impressive amount of time with us given how full his plate is, sharing full and abbreviated versions of his presentation, moderating panel sessions on climate communication, advocacy programs, and clean energy pathways. We saw staggering evidence of the scope of the impacts that our planet is already beginning to evidence in the form of increased drought and wildfires, extreme precipitation events, effects on public health and disease, ocean acidification, glacial decline, and sea level rise– impacts that, without swift and persistent commitment to global greenhouse gas emission reductions, will worsen in scope and impact the lives of humans and all our fellow species. It was a review that was both profoundly disturbing and intensely motivating, for it is clear that the scale, in the words of Climate Reality President Ken Berlin, is beyond what we are used to imagining and what we have ever faced.

But, as Berlin also pointed out, if the scale is enormous, so is the opportunity. There is amazingly good news on the horizon, and some of it is here already, of the rapidly declining costs of clean energy alternatives. We are entering a phase of grid parity with traditional fossil fuels, the threshold below which the unsubsidized cost of solar is lower than the unsubsidized cost of fossil fuels. No less an investment forecaster than Goldman Sachs predicts these costs will continue to drop. Around the world and in the US, we are starting to see wind and solar ramp up and energy storage being explored and expanded, in response to these cost declines. In the meantime, while our current Administration postures about reviving the coal industry, the reality of that industry is that it is precipitous decline. There were zero new coal plants permitted this year; operating plants are rapidly shuttering; there are  twice as many people employed in the solar industry than coal; and internationally, several countries, with China in the lead, are on track to reduce or eliminate coal-generated power. At the local level, there is incredible momentum towards a clean energy pathway, and we saw some exciting examples including Colorado’s voter-approved renewables portfolio, passed in 2004 and upgraded since to require 30 percent of electricity sold by large utilities to come from renewable energy sources by 2020; and places like Moab and Park City Utah committing to 100% renewable energy within 15 years.

But while market forces are increasingly in our favor, the reality is, there is plenty of work for the grassroots to do to ensure this transition occurs, and as quickly as possible. Fossil fuels have an enormous, deep-pocketed hold on our governments that has been built up for over a century. Globally, we subsidize fossil fuels at the rate of about $10 million a MINUTE – a figure greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. With this level of investment in the status quo, and with many of our politicians’ campaign chests filled with fossil fuel money to ensure the continuation of such subsidies, it is not difficult to understand why there is such inertia and opposition to policies that support clean energy development and regulate climate change. And time is most certainly of the essence, as we look at the stark reality that the vast majority of our proven carbon reserves are unburnable if we hope to stay below 2 °C of warming, above which many scientists agree we will face extraordinarily harmful consequences to our global ecosystems. Accordingly, much of our training was focused on effective communication strategies- how to powerfully, effectively disseminate fact-based information back to our communities and to decision-makers in order to fight back against the deep pockets arrayed against this progress.

I left the Climate Reality training with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to this issue, with lots of new resources available to us as Climate Leaders through the Climate Reality program, and, very importantly, with the sense of the 1,000 fellow trainees and the 10,000 more that have been trained by this program, all having my back as we work together across the country and the world to move us away from a path of destruction and climate chaos, towards a liveable, breatheable future. Here are the final words I wrote in my notebook from Mr. Gore’s closing statements:

Things take longer than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you’d think they could. Remember that obfuscation and doubt are choices, but the choice is clear. No lie can live forever, and the moral arc of the Universe, as Dr. King said, bends towards justice.

Forward.

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7 thoughts on “Action 153. Climate. Reality.

  1. John F. Williams

    Hey Deb, very nice overview! I look forward to your community presentations on this subject.
    I have a question about changing the fossil fuel inertia. I suspect that the coal and petroleum companies don’t really care what type of fuel they’re using, whether it’s fossil, solar, turtle brains, or cosmic zombie love songs. What they do care about is the investment they’ve made in their existing infrastructure, and losses due to retiring old infrastructure investments and having to make new ones. If there were some way to take the sting out of it, along the lines of beating swords into ploughshares, it would be easier to turn them into allies. Is this line of thinking being explored? It seems like given some creative thinking there could be a lot of leverage possible here. E.g. a lot of existing power plants are located on the coasts, because they use the ocean water for cooling. However, many of those coastal sites probably have some pretty good wind/tide/thermal energy generating potential and are already eyesores and zoned for power generation.

    Reply
    1. Deb Post author

      Hi John- thanks for your comment! My feeling is that many of these fossil fuel companies completely know that the writing is on the wall, and many of them are actually doing just what you suggest- exploring alternatives and building their infrastructure to prepare for this transition. Its been true for BP for decades. I worked on a biofuel project for another big traditional O&G company a decade ago. These guys definitely are already in that game. I think its more that they want to have their cake and eat it too- they want to stay in the fossil fuel game as long as they can for as long as we will let them, because they want to squeeze out all the returns they can on their massive investments in that traditional infrastructure.

      Reply
      1. John F. Williams

        That sounds like good news. If they’re already making and implementing transitional plans, albeit slowly, maybe helping them rather than, or in addition to, “fight back” would help speed up the process. Maybe a good additional strategy would be to get some old-hands at government together with some out-side-the-box creatives to explore heretofore unthought of ways to make that transition to renewables more attractive to the fossil fuel based industries, dramatically minimizing the costs of infrastructure changes (or repurposing), and helping minimize other obstacles. Of course, these ideas will need to go around the mid-level people who got conned into believing the inflammatory (fossil fuels burn, get it?) rhetoric, and be addressed to the upper level management who see the writing on the wall.

        I’m not volunteering to do all that. I’m no longer in a position to have much leverage, but I’ll be happy to egg on people who would know how to get some really creative thinkers together with the right government and industry people.

        I know, it’s tempting to say, “but both sides are already really smart, and they’ve already thought it all through, and are at an impasse (but our side is right)”. But to reiterate my point, there are always fresh ways to look at things that haven’t been thought of before. That’s how we came to realize that the earth isn’t flat, the sun doesn’t orbit the earth, and grinding glass in a certain way can make things look bigger, or closer. Or that you can generate electricity from sunlight!

  2. John F. Williams

    Here is one more very insightful and somewhat optimistic look at energy science and some contemporary science initiatives in general. It’s a half hour podcast, easy to listen to while you’re doing the dishes or something else. Climate change issues are discussed at the beginning and end. Due to the recent administration’s attempts to erase “science”, the middle of this podcast is very relevant too.
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/exit-interview-presidential-science-advisor-john-holdren/

    Reply

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